Life is ducky on northern Alta. farm

Erin Moskalyk’s flock is made up of a variety of duck breeds, including acona, rowen and cayuga. | Mary MacArthur photo

Learning curve is steep as family searches for information about raising ducks while convincing consumers to switch eggs

FAIRVIEW, Alta. — Erin Moskalyk isn’t afraid to jump into the deep end with new farm projects. When she and her husband, Darren, got the opportunity to buy 200 ducks about to start laying eggs, they didn’t hesitate.

“We had never had a bird in our life, but we thought this had potential,” said Erin from her Fairview farm.

From the beginning the couple knew finding customers willing to switch from chicken to the larger, more expensive duck eggs would take time, but never dreamed the prolific ducks would lay so many eggs.

“Some days we were getting more than 100 eggs a day and had no clue where they were going to go. I couldn’t give them away,” she said.

Moskalyk approached food banks, shelters and animal rescue facilities to take eggs in exchange for a charitable receipt when the dozens and dozens of eggs laid each day began to accumulate.

“At the peak, I had 120 eggs a day. I fertilized my garden with them.”

While some customers took a few dozen eggs to eat, convincing others to switch from chicken eggs to duck eggs at $9 a dozen was not easy.

The yokes are 40 percent larger and most of the eggs are classified as jumbo because of their large size.

“When you buy a dozen eggs from a duck producer you are getting two dozen egg equivalents.”

The ducks have now slowed their production to a more manageable 20 eggs a day, and Moskalyk is working with a central Alberta marketing manager to develop a market for them.

“At the beginning I said it was going to take us a year or better to find a market and I was right.”

An Edmonton baker and an executive chef in Red Deer have begun using the eggs, which are high in protein, almost twice the size of a chicken egg and store for weeks. The whites of duck eggs are prized by bakers because of their stiffness in baking.

The family dug a small swimming hole for the ducks and surrounded it with old hemp bales to give the birds a place to swim during the summer. | Mary MacArthur photo

Moskalyk estimates it costs about four cents a day to feed the ducks. The $9 a dozen sale price won’t cover the cost of fuel to take the eggs to central Alberta, but she hopes having an executive chef use and promote her duck eggs will help in the long run.

Finding information on raising ducks and selling duck eggs hasn’t been easy. Egg Farmers of Alberta, the chicken egg marketing board, has no information. When she called Alberta Agriculture’s toll-free information line, she was told to call Ducks Unlimited, the wild bird organization.

“I do miss Ropin’ the Web,” she said of the former Alberta Agriculture call centre and website staffed with industry experts.

Instead, Moskalyk has turned to social media to find information on ducks and their eggs.

“I found some similar duck producers and egg producers through Instagram in the (United States). They are extremely helpful. They will help you with information and business building.”

Because the industry is small, ducks and their eggs are not a supply-managed industry and don’t fall under the same egg-raising limits as regular laying operations. Moskalyk is also able to sell the eggs and any products made from them from her farm or a farmers market.

Despite the initial hurdles, Moskalyk plans to rebuild her flock and have a more orderly marketing plan. When the birds first arrived, half the horse barn was switched into a barn for the ducks. Nest boxes were built along the edge of the walls and heat tapes placed under the boxes to keep the eggs from freezing in the winter.

Energy efficient lights on timers were added to the barn area to regulate the light for optimum egg production.

Moskalyk holds a jar of duck eggs that she preserves using a process called water glass eggs. | Mary MacArthur photo

The floor and the boxes are lined with hemp herd, the straw-like fibres of a hemp plant. For two years the Moskalyks grew hemp on their farm, but much of the seed and bales are still on the farm after the company that contracted to take the seed went into receivership.

Hemp herd and its absorption qualities make excellent duck bedding, she said.

“They are a wet animal and produce a wet product. Hemp absorbs eight times itself in odour and moisture.”

The combination of duck manure and hemp herd is excellent garden compost, she said.

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